We all tend to focus on the artist. Do we love them; do we hate them? Perceptions and affiliations are formed in just moments. Seldom do we talk about a band or artist in any other way than a binary manner.
Do you love or hate Justin Bieber?
Is Cody Simpson a washed up teen star?
Can Carly Rae Jepsen ever top her viral monster, "Call Me Maybe"?
Each of these artists have had a unique set of challenges to surmount in order to keep their careers moving along. Against very long odds, all three have had to follow up once in a lifetime kind of success under tremendous scrutiny. And all three are emerging on the other side of extreme fame in unique ways.
Why are we talking about these three artists in this post? All three share one management company: Scooter Braun's SB Management.
Before They Grew Up
Peeking behind Oz's curtain, it seems Scooter and the gang have pulled off a truly remarkable feat of simultaneously positioning, re-imaging, and marketing these artists, telling new, compelling stories so that they can successfully usher their artists into new stages of their careers. They should teach this in grad school...seriously. Let's have a look at everything that's happened so far this year.
Justin Bieber...what a spoiled, obnoxious D-Bag, right? After the release of his 2012 album Believe
, Justin embarked on an infamous crusade of tattoos, loose women, house vandalism, pissing in buckets, getting arrested, and whatever else could be breathlessly chronicled by the fine paparazzos at TMZ. If he wound up working in a Las Vegas dry cleaner and offing himself in his 30s, well...no one would be surprised. It would be a tragically satisfying conclusion to a story the press would be all too happy to tell.
Last winter, however, Justin embarked on an epic image overhaul, starting with his appearance on Ellen DeGeneres last February. On the show he apologized for his past discretions and pranked fans by making out with DeGeneres in a bathroom. Holy sh*t! Bieber is funny? Bieber is human?
The defining moment came during a Comedy Central Roast of the Biebs last March. Though a bit odd to roast a 20 year old, there was plenty of material to cover. The show put him back in the public eye as someone who didn't mind being the butt of vicious and tasteless jokes for an hour on cable. What the Roast really accomplished was airing all his dirty laundry all at once. Going forward we didn't have to talk about Bieber's past.
Fast forward a couple of arrest-free months to June and Bieber jumps on with Diplo and Skrillex on their white hot Jack U collaboration, releasing a monster hit in "Where U You Now". Justin Bieber, more human than ever, and most impressively, musically relevant to a more grown up audience.
And now onto the seriously faded but still massively hyped VMAs. Bieber performed his new, Skrillex produced single "What Do You Mean" (which is really, really good!) and shed a whole lot of tears in the process. Earlier this week, he re-hashed the track with The Roots on Fallon, and turned a lot of heads with his chops in a drum off with QuestLove.
The genius in all this is the mastery of the media and the execution of an image overhaul the public would accept (Bieber is grown up). The proof is in the numbers. Fallon introduced Bieber by declaring "What Do You Mean" to be Number One on iTunes in 86 countries. Boom. Cue the world tour and more adult global playboy lessons from George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Cody Simpson is a somewhat less convoluted story. His new album Free
is more about letting a young artist do what they think is right for them and helping build the story around the direction they chose. Like Bieber, Cody was discovered on YouTube, this time by a Warner exec. With his big, blonde image and laid back attitude, this Aussie surfer was slotted to be Warner's answer to Bieber. His first single iYiYi, featuring Flo Rida, was released in 2010 when Cody was only 15. Things were pushed a little further along when he was paired up with Bieber on portions of the Believe Tour; a little Synergy from common management.
Cody parted ways with Warner in late 2014, forming his own label and changing musical direction. Teen idol pop was replaced with mellow, well-crafted summery beach tunes...Jack Johnson meets John Mayer. Full disclosure: When Baeble was serviced with his first video, we nearly deleted it without watching...a major mistake consider he's been a constant summer jam in our office.
While this kind of transformation has been less dramatic/tabloidy than Bieber's, it's still impressive...especially as Cody traversed North American beach towns all summer long with hot weather all-star, Donovan Frankenreiter in tow. After all, Summer music is an annuity business (see Jimmy Buffet) and it should make for an enduring career.
But perhaps most interesting is the hill Carly Rae Jepsen has had to climb. "Call Me Maybe" became the
cultural touchstone across the globe when it was released in 2012; the biggest selling digital single of all time, actually! Sure, the video for the single has played a few hundred million times less than Bieber's "Baby" on YouTube, but three years after its release its playing at nearly twice the clip of "Baby"; 20,000 times per hour to Bieber's 10,000. So how does she follow-up such epic, lightning in a bottle? The pressure must have been immense.
Three years later, we have our answer in another well-crafted successful campaign. In March we were treated to Tom Hanks lip-synching his way through the enormously enjoyable "I Really Like You". Taking a page from the tsunami of tribute videos that accompanied the release of "Call Me Maybe" and lead by America's favorite actor and oh by the way, isn't that Bieber popping up at the end like a freshly washed charming surprise bunny? The obligatory stop on Ellen Degeneres back in April , an SNL appearance, followed by Dancing with the Stars in May got the machine moving at high speed (I forgot to mention that Cody Simpson appeared on DWTS in the fall of 2014).
Lorde summed up Carly Raes current album Emotion
with this slightly catty Instagram quote: "Emotion is one of those annoying records where every song is good. Kills me, but I hid my frustration for a night and just danced."
You don't have to follow up a cultural phenomenon with another. Instead, just deliver one of the best pop albums of 2015 [Ed. Note: I'd go so far as to say that it's handily the best pop album of the last couple years.].
The folks at SB Management have engineered a fascinating year. The Today Show, Ellen, SNL, Dancing With The Stars, and and Jimmy Fallon must be on someone's speed dial...and the results are amazing. Carly Rae proves it's better to be flat-out good than lucky, Justin is (somehow) relevant again, and Cody is cranking his casual, summer brand.
Looking ahead, PSY and Ariana Grande also call SB Management home. Making Ariana likable and PSY more than Korean flash in the pan might be their biggest challenge to date, but judging by their track record, SB Management just might be right for the job.